In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In a race all the runners run, but only one wins. As much as we Canadians used to say that just going to the Olympics is an honour, that participation is its own reward, that we should be proud of our Olympians who get 4th or 10th or 20th, everyone loves a winner. Now that Canadians are riding high in the medal count at the Winter Olympics anything but gold is disappointing. We love winners. No one wants to be last. After all, no one remembers you if not first. Run to win.
This is a kingdom upside down where an innocent man who was slandered, mocked, mumbled and grumbled against, hated and murdered is king. The ultimate last made first. Where stone dead rock being struck causes living water to flow. For Christ Jesus is your rock. He is your firm foundation. He is the source of life and hope for losers.
And His yoke of slavery is easy. His burden is light. For He takes the burden of your evil eye, your fixation with this world, with what it offers, your dissatisfaction with Him and what He provides on Himself. He claims it as own, for you belong to Him, He is responsible for you. He gives you, His slave, free run of His House with all its benefits. A house fit for a king given to slaves.
Though He frees you from the slavery of an evil eye, giving you the good eye of faith, He will suffer you to reject Him, to mumble and grumble against Him. The problem is when He frees you He opens your eyes to what a deadly, dry desert this world is. Drier than Death Valley. This is the great valley of bones that Ezekiel saw in a vision (Ezekiel 37:1-14). “Son of man, can these bones live?” “Oh, Lord God, only you know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)
You don’t have to play that game. For your God does the impossible He makes the dead live. The World says “You can’t get blood from a stone,” but the Rock of your salvation pours forth life in the wilderness. He puts flesh on your dry bones and breathes life into your dead soul. He raises the dead to life. With eyeballs back in your skull you see the truth, you see this world is a desert all around. He is the only oasis. You can depart, but where will you go? For all around you is death without your Rock who is your life. Apart from the water of life coming from this Rock of Ages cleft for me there is no hope. Just death.
Moses struck the Rock with Aaron’s staff. Christ was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for you. Cleft on the cross by nails and spear. From Him not only water flowed, but blood also. When He breathed His last He gave up His Spirit so that from His flesh, dead as stone, came water, blood and Spirit: the Lord’s Washing, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Word (1 John 5:6-8).
This same staff of dead wood had blossomed and budded in the Tabernacle, over night putting forth ripe almonds (Numbers 17:1-10). This showed that Aaron was the chosen priest of God, the one through whom God’s grace and mercy came. This staff struck Christ the rock (Exodus 17:5; 7:19-20). Thus, the dead wood of the cross, with which God struck Christ, has become for us a tree blossoming with life. A tree whose fruit is forgiveness, joy and peace with God, the promise of a return to Eden (Revelation 2:7; 22:1-2).
For this world wants you to see as it does. It wants your eye to be evil. It wants you to begrudge His generosity. It wants you to think that He owes you something. That He made this world a desert, not us. That you are owed your wages for you are a winner. You are first. If not in business or sport, then in family, or in decency, or in propriety or hard work. You have laboured long in God’s vineyard. You’ve provided for your family. He owes you.
And you forget that before He called you, you were standing around listless in the marketplace. That you were not one of the “winners.” You were already losing, whether you knew it or not. Repent.
His call to labour in His vineyard—a small piece of paradise on this side of heaven, with protection from hunger, thirst, the scorching sun—is not a financial transaction, not labour for wages. It is grace from beginning to end. He calls. He feeds. He provides. With Him there is no more standing in the scorching sun and stifling heat of the marketplace, withering while trying to play the world’s game. Instead, He gives you the shade and pleasant breeze, the playful sunshine and open spaces of His hillside vineyard. And when your day is done, and He comes again there is rest in His house and the eternal feast of His table for you who were last but in Him are first.
This world is an awful place. Whining is normal. But whining against the Lord is deadly. Repent. For He was last so that you would be first.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON